Relief of a banqueter
Late Republican Period
about 50 B.C.
Sculpture in Stone (MFA), no. 324; Sculpture in Stone and Bronze (MFA), p. 114 (additional published references).
Height: 29 cm (11 7/16 in.); width (max.): 23.5 cm (9 1/4 in.)
Medium or Technique
Marble from Carrara in northwest Italy
Not On View
The slab is broken at the top, the left side, and the lower right corner. The man’s forehead is chipped, and there are other damages or slight dents. The surfaces have a yellow to tobacco brown coloration.
This relief as preserved includes the upper part of a man of later middle age reclining upon a draped couch. He wears a short-sleeved tunic and a mantle, draped over his left arm. Leaning on his left elbow, he holds a two-handled metal vase, and a banqueter’s wreath hangs from this wrist. An unidentified object, perhaps another wreath held by an Eros (?) appears above his right arm. At the right edge of the slab, on the fillet molding, is a tree with a vine twined about it.
There is a striking contrast between the naturalism of the mild little man’s head and the sketchiness of the rest of the relief. At first glance the subject might be funerary, in the tradition of Greek banquet reliefs, but the panel may have been a household or garden decoration. The style of portrait and secondary carving suggest a date at the end of the Roman Republic or in the early empire, the optimum period of so-called Hellenistic (“Schreiber-type”) decorative and architectural reliefs. In 1936 Heinrich Fuhrmann suggested the subject was the Augustan court poet Quintus Horatius Flaccus (65-8 B.C.), and this identification has found wide acceptance in popular classical literature. Other than his own descriptions of his person and personality, Horace is known from inscribed contorniates or circus tokens of the fourth century A.D.
The treatment of the hair and the wrinkled face of the man in the relief, however, support a date in the time of Julius Caesar, as proposed by Paul Zanker. At that time (around 50 B.C.), Horace would have been a smooth-faced adolescent and certainly could have had no connection with this relief.
Harvard Lab No. HI711: Isotope ratios - delta13C +1.98 / delta18O -2.31, Attribution - Carrara, Justification - Fine-grained marble.
By 1900: with Edward Perry Warren (according to Warren's records: Italy); purchased by MFA from Edward Perry Warren, February 1900
Henry Lillie Pierce Fund